Stand Up For Science

Justin Singer urges those of us who care about science and democracy to stand up to our federal government.

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Stand up for Science rallies were held in 17 cities across the country on September 16, 2013, with scientists, supporters of science, and supporters of democracy protesting cuts to public science and the muzzling of scientists.  One of the rally sites in support of the preservation and progression of scientific knowledge was Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The local event was organized by a Dalhousie graduate student, Justin Singer.  Singer’s introductory remarks, expressing his support for objective, honest, and freely expressed scientific knowledge, and for rational, enlightened, and science based legislation are reprinted below:

By joining us, you have shown that you care about the health of the planet as a whole, and about the survival of democracy in Canada through the ability of its citizens to make informed choices in all areas of their lives.

We are here as part of one section of a nation-wide rally that is being organized by Evidence for Democracy. Evidence for Democracy is a non-profit organization that was formed in response to Bill C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act introduced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – the omnibus budget bill responsible for the weakening of environmental laws such as the Fisheries Act. In conjunction with this bill, the federal government also announced that it would cut funding to the Experimental Lakes Area – one of Canada’s most important contributions to worldwide research pertaining to freshwater ecosystems.

StandUpForScienceThe Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) was founded in the late 1960’s in response to the degradation of freshwater ecosystems and forest health as a result of acidic deposition, more frequently known as acid rain. The ELA has made many significant contributions to health and policy, including the identification of the harmful effects of acidic deposition and phosphorus-based fertilizers. Since then, the federal government has implemented further measures that impede the efforts of scientists to provide the public with precise information regarding human impact on the natural world. One of the most deplorable instances of this occurred in September 2011, when the federal government cut funding for the Canadian Ozone Network, a system of 17 stations distributed across the country designed to collect data on ozone levels. As a result, Canadians have been deprived of an important source of knowledge concerning the vital natural shield against ultraviolet radiation. Through these and several other such unconstitutional and anti-intellectual pieces of legislation, the federal government has compromised the ability of the public to make informed decisions, and has thus denied us the capacity to participate fairly in the democratic process.

That brings me to why I’m here, and what this issue means to me. I am a graduate student at Dalhousie, not in any applied science discipline as you might have expected, but actually in the Classics department. My specialty is Ancient philosophy, particularly ancient mathematics and astronomy. The issue at hand is one that resonates deeply with me at a philosophical level, since, as a Platonist, I am devoted to truth and seek to understand the structure and functionality of the universe as a single grand system, and so I pursue all fields of scientific study with great enthusiasm. Through my academic work here, I have learned that the nearness of humans to the highest degree of excellence is measured by their mastery in the activity of reason. Without reason, we are unable to use our knowledge to make decisions in accordance with the principles of nature.

As long as the government restricts our access to precise and honest scientific information, our reasoning will be flawed and incomplete, and our actions will therefore run counter to the laws of the natural world. It is my hope that today, we will be able to remind our leaders that scientific knowledge is essential to the survival of life on earth, for if we do not understand the system of which we are a part, we will be unable to function properly within it.

Four speakers then addressed the audience in turn: the Honourable Megan Leslie, NDP MP for Halifax, Deputy Leader and environment critic; the Honourable Elizabeth May, Green Party leader, MP for the Saanich Gulf Islands, writer, lawyer, environmentalist, and alumnus of Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie; Prof. Tom Duck of the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences; and Alana Westwood, a PhD candidate in the department of Biology here at Dalhousie, and a member of Evidence for Democracy.

If you care about evidence-based decision-making, not decision-based evidence-making (a phrase coined by Elizabeth May), then send a message to your MP asking him or her to promote science in the public interest, and sign the petition on the Evidence for Democracy website www.evidencefordemocracy.ca

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Justin Singer is a Master’s student in Classics at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada.

See coverage of this event by CBC News here and New York Times editorial on Silencing Scientists.

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